Tufts University Student Dies in Hot Dog Eating Contest

A Tufts student, Madelyn “Madie” Nicpon, 20, is the latest fatality in an eating or drinking contest. We have previously discussed (here, here, here, here, and here) such competitions from a liability standpoint. This was a charity contest but raises the question of whether it is reasonable to hold such contests that encourage rapid eating or drinking given the obvious danger of choking or other risks. Conversely, participation is voluntary and these individuals assume the risks of such contests.

The contest apparently occurred in the town of Somerville, Massachusetts, on private property with the Lacrosse team called the Jumbos. Nicpon, who was known as “Scooter,” was studying biopsychology with hopes of working in the medical field.

A year ago, Sacred Heart University settled another case that we discussed.  In that case, Sacred Heart University student Caitlin Nelson choked to death at a charity pancake-eating contest in March 2017. The university argued that her “injuries and damages were caused in whole or in part” by Nelson’s own “carelessness and negligence.”

These cases raise difficult issues of negligence and countervailing questions of comparative negligence and assumption of the risk. Most of these contests include express waivers signed by the competitors. However, some do not. One case did however go to a decision. The family also sued the contractor who recommended pancakes for the eating contest.

The Superior Court of Connecticut rejected an effort by the contractor (“Chartwells”) to disclaim any responsibility given its limited role:

“The question here regarding Chartwells’ duty is not controlled by whether it was present at the event or supervised the contest or the participants, but is premised on the allegations of the complaint indicating that it participated in the decision selecting pancakes to be used as the food for the eating contest.

To explain further, Chartwells may contend that it could not have either known or reasonably anticipated that the use of pancakes for the contest posed any risk greater than the use of any other food used in such contests. Such an argument, however, does not involve whether a duty of care exists, as argued in the motion to strike, but involves whether any such duty was violated, which presents a question for the trier of fact.”

In any Tufts litigation, the first question is whether any waivers were signed. However, there remain the plaintiff conduct questions. The danger of choking is obvious in such contests. Under the old contributory negligence standard, the student could be entirely barred from recovery since even one percent of fault attributed to the plaintiffs would result in such a bar. Most states are now comparative negligence jurisdictions following either pure or modified approaches.

Massachusetts is a modified or partial comparative jurisdiction where a plaintiff can be contributory negligent and recover so long as she was less than 51 percent at fault. Thus, under Section 85, if the student is found to be more than 50 percent at fault, she is entirely barred.  Note however that your percentage of fault below 51 percent is still applied against your damages. Thus, if you were awarded $100 but found to be 40 % at fault, you would recover only $60.

Thus, there are potential arguments on both sides though a written waiver could frustrate any effort at holding the school liable in such a tragedy.

22 thoughts on “Tufts University Student Dies in Hot Dog Eating Contest”

  1. This is why any eating contest of any kind should always have a medic and some tube equipment nearby. Sounds kind of silly but look what happened here.

  2. This was entirely knowable.

    She got too close to the fire, deliberately.

    This was suicide.

  3. I am curious what facts will come out in the latest prop gun tragedy, which involved Alec Baldwin. He fatally shot a cinematographer, and injured a director, on set with a prop gun. No other details have come out yet.

    What a terrible tragedy for all involved.

      1. Maybe not – but we want them.

        Every year on the 4th of july at a local ampitheater the local orchestra plays the 1812 overature with about 20 revolutionary and civil war cannon providing the “concusion section” for the climax.

        We do not need that – but we want it.

        And most years the Boston Pops trues to lure our cannon section away – because a couple of dozen napoleans firing is more apealing than a howitzer.

        There are lots of things we do not need that we want, and that we get.

        We do not need cars or computers, or beds.

    1. To call the Baldwin shooting a tragedy is to relieve the shooter of responsibility and culpability. Any weapons training would begin by emphasizing and making absolutely certain that the barrel of any gun be pointed away from any person or object. Alec Baldwin, wittingly or unwittingly, should never have pointed the barrel of any gun at any person, ever!

      This negligent manslaughter was preventable and ego generated and not dissimilar to the disasters generated by the Kennedy egos when a massive experimental bomb was flown (i.e. Operation Aphrodite) over Northern France, a car was driven off a dike at Poucha Pond, Chappaquiddick, an open limousine was driven in a “parade” through Dallas (i.e. enemy territory), a plane was flown straight into the Atlantic Ocean off Martha’s Vineyard due to “spatial disorientation” in conditions which required the highest pilot flight rating and sufficient mental capacity.

      Alec Baldwin is fully culpable.

      1. Clue: Hot head, Alec Baldwin got into a fight with cinematographer Halyna Hutchins

        Halyna was not an actor or stunt stand in or prop….. She was filming & directing the set. Alec Baldwin blasted Halyna with a bullet, not a blank.

  4. Choking is a very common occurrence at eating contests. I’ve never understood the appeal of watching someone stuff as much food in their gullet as fast as possible. It makes me queasy to watch.

    It’s a known risk, and voluntary participation, so I don’t think heirs should sue the venue. But I also think it’s foolish for people to either hold or participate in.

    1. We are not free, if we are not free to do things that most others consider to be stupid.

      Too many – especially on the left fail to grasp that.

      Each of us may advise others to:

      think twice about eating contests,
      to consume alcohol in moderation
      To refrain from illegal drugs

      But when we resort to FORCE we make ourselves and others into slaves.

      The differences between the black slaves 200 years ago and far too many of us today is only one of degree.

      White southern aristocrats argued just as modern leftists do that they were benevolent stewards for their slaves.
      More “expert” at meeting their needs.

      And in many instance they may have even been right.

      That is not relevant.

      Enslaving others is not moral.

      Not for a white plantation owner, Not for a modern leftist.

  5. Lawyer up….Got to blame someone or something

    Madelyn “Madie” died from hotdog over dose.

    Which is worse? Hotdog over dose or getting shot in the head by actor Alec Baldwin?

    1. “Which is worse? Hotdog over dose or getting shot in the head by actor Alec Baldwin?”
      Shoulder and stomach but no matter. I’d say getting shot by I-hate-guns-except-when-I’m-paid Alec Baldwin . You die slower and you know that some imbecile without any gun knowledge whatsoever did it.

      The One Rule of Gun Safety pounded into every Southern kid’s head:

      All guns are loaded and lethal and their barrels are always, always, always to be pointed in a safe direction.

  6. If they hosted a marathon and one of the participants died of a heart attack, would we be arguing that marathons are inherently dangerous because of the likelihood of a cardiac event. Seems to me that the main difference between an eating contest and a marathon, is that everyone understands that simply because you can walk, doesn’t mean you can run a marathon. But when it comes to eating, many participants don’t appreciate that in order to consume such large quantities of food, training is in fact required. And the negligence, if any, would be in the failure to insure that the participants are aware, that without proper training they are putting themselves at risk.

  7. She died doing something she wanted to do and chose to do.

    Life has risks.

    This is a fight for money, not justice.

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Res ipsa loquitur – The thing itself speaks